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Running low on toilet paper? Here are your options

Encinitas resident Jonny Blue, 33, who is a physical therapist, makes a request for toilet paper so that he can in turn give it to drivers that need it while standing at the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real on Saturday, March 14, 2020 in Encinitas, California.
Encinitas resident Jonny Blue, 33, who is a physical therapist, makes a request for toilet paper so that he can in turn give it to drivers that need it while standing at the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real on Saturday, March 14, 2020.
(Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

An ongoing run on toilet paper has left some people low on supplies, but there are a number of alternatives

Visit nearly any Walmart, CVS or grocery store in California and you’re bound to find shoppers desperate to buy toilet paper. Hoarding of the bathroom staple amid the escalating coronavirus outbreak has ravaged retail shelves and online stocks — leaving many residents wondering where their next wipe will come from.

However, there are a number of options open to those running low on toilet paper during these desperate times.

Ration like crazy

Perhaps the first thing to do is estimate how long your current supplies will last. A handy calculator at howmuchtoiletpaper.com will lead you through some rather personal questions and give you an estimate.

For instance, one roll is estimated to last a single adult roughly two weeks.

Then, cue the arguments with family members over who is using too much toilet paper.

Brave the crowds

Stores are restocking supplies for those scrambling to secure fresh rolls. Shoppers would be well advised to call ahead before wasting precious gas canvassing different locations. A quick conversation with a clerk can provide key information about when a local business expects its next shipment. Folks should be prepared to stand in line and purchase a restricted amount, such as one package per household.

There are also reports that people have been heading across the border into Mexico to buy toilet paper. A Costco in Tijuana reportedly had a line of hundreds of people waiting for the store to open. However, starting Saturday, border crossings have closed to nonessential travel.

Click and wait ... and wait

You can order toilet paper online from places such as Amazon, but supplies are backordered for weeks. Still, if the coronavirus shelter-in-place directives continue, putting in an order now may prove prescient come May.

Folks can also try googling listicles for where to purchase toilet paper online, like this one from Business Insider. However, such articles quickly become outdated.

Hot off the presses

OK, so the unthinkable has happened. You ran out. There are a bunch of alternatives to using toilet paper, including the newspaper some readers may be holding right now. An Australian newspaper printed blank sheets in a recent edition to that end.

In fact, it’s a pretty common practice in many less affluent parts of the world, said Nancy Postero, UC San Diego professor of anthropology. Most people in South America use toilet paper, but often poorer folks living in the countryside run out.

“They use whatever they have on hand, so the number one thing people use is old newspapers,” she said. “You’ll see torn up newspaper or torn up magazines sitting by the toilet.”

So if you’re running low on toilet paper, consider subscribing to the Union-Tribune. It might be cheaper than a package of Charmin on Ebay.

People can also use paper towels, baby wipes and other household paper goods to wipe, but just remember not to flush newspaper or any other of those products, including disinfecting wipes, down the toilet.

Top California water officials have warned that doing so could back up sewer systems and overwhelm treatment plants.

Go paperless

Water is always an option for those really in a bind. Sales of bidets, for example, are reportedly doing very well. The common fixture of many European homes uses a spray of water to hose down bottoms.

Folks don’t need to drop a lot of dough on one either. In a pinch, a toilet attachment can be ordered online for roughly $30 with shipping.

If that sounds like too much work, a squirt bottle can also suffice in some cases. After giving birth, women often wash themselves with what’s referred to as a perineal irrigation bottle to protect sore, often stitched parts.

It’s even become a meme.

Many people are spending their days at home now, so hopping into the shower is an easy solution.

People can also just use a cup of water and their hand as an option.

If fact, wiping with the left hand is a preferred method in South Asian countries, such as India and Pakistan, said UCSD professor Saiba Varma.

“Every bathroom usually has a little tap next to pot and you have a little mug,” she said. “They call it a lota. You wash yourself usually with that mug of water.

“People in South Asia think that using toilet paper is less hygienic, that it doesn’t actually clean you completely,” she added.

As a result of the cleaning technique, people eat and perform other tasks exclusively with their right hand, Varma said. “Even if you’re giving someone money, you would never give it to them with your left hand. That would be considered rude.”

When in Rome

There are also a number of DIY solutions out there, such as using a rope, socks or fastening a sponge on the end of a stick.

Historians believe that ancient Romans used communal sponge-and-stick devices in public toilets. They apparently called it a xylospongium.

“Basically, you’d be using the same, well, toilet product as everybody who used that toilet,” said UCSD history professor Edward Watts.

Of course, people probably shouldn’t share their devices. It was thought that the 2,000-year-old practice spread parasites and infection.

“Romans didn’t understand that using the same sponge was a problem,” Watts said. “This caused all kinds of really serious hygiene issues. They didn’t understand there was an infection risk.”

Perhaps this could surface as a novelty item on Etsy. Although some have questioned whether the devices were actually used to clean toilet bowls and not bums.


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